Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)

Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)


An enclosed area generally made of wooden planks that prevent stock animals, such as sheep, goats, and cows from escaping. Corrals are generally associated with pastoralism and ranching.


Natural and pharmaceutically-derived substances used to relieve pain that can cause stupor, sleep, euphoria, and addiction. The most common form of narcotics are opiates, such as opium, morphine, and heroin. Morphine was isolated from opium in 1804 by German pharmacist F.W.A. Sertürner, and heroin was developed from morphine in 1898 by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer.

All narcotics were initially developed and prescribed to manage pain. However, due to their highly addictive nature, narcotic abuse led to strict regulation and enforcement of the use of these and other substances. In the 1970s, the U.S. federal government engaged in the War on Drugs, which led to high rates of incarceration for populations who came to be associated with the criminal use of controlled substances, such as narcotics. Targeted populations included counterculture movements, the inner city poor, and the working poor, especially black and Latino communities.

Hopi Reservation, Arizona

The Hopi have lived in the U.S. Southwest for thousands of years, and while their ancestral lands span large swaths of the Southwest, the Hopi Reservation currently covers 1.5 million acres of northeastern Arizona. Within this tract of land there are twelve villages and three mesas. The Hopi Reservation is situated within the Navajo Nation Reservation, a relationship that has caused conflict for over 100 years, as a number of land disputes has resulted in the decrease in size of Hopi land and the creation of a shared Joint-Use territory. While a majority of the Hopi live on three mesas, First, Second, and Third Mesas, there is a Hopi farming community near Tuba City, established in the 1870’s.

Hopi lands first came under control of the U.S. government in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, where Mexico ceded the southwest, Wyoming, and California to the United States of America. As the Hopi historically avoided interaction with the U.S. government and have always attempted to maintain privacy and sovereignty, the boundary of the Hopi reservation was not determined until 1882. The 1882 U.S. Executive Order-Hopi Indian Reservation originally allotted 2.4 million acres of land to the Hopi. However, this is only a fraction the original 15-million-acre Hopi Tutskwa, or aboriginal Hopi lands. Additionally, when the boundary was drawn, it exclude a large portion of the historic tribal land on which sacred sites, shrines, and villages existed. Later, Hopi reservation land was further reduced in size to 1.5 million acres. The current Hopi tribal lands include the main reservation, the Moenkopi District Reservation, and the Hopi Three Canyon Ranch Lands.


In some versions of Navajo traditional beliefs, when people die, their ghosts, which are understood as their essence or spirit, can linger in the place of dying and possible cause harm to the living. The Navajo word for a ghost is “chindi," and chindi is associated with ghost sickness, a malaise that can manifest through a variety of physical, mental, or emotional symptoms. There are very specific precautions used to prevent ghost sickness, such as avoiding all contact with the deceased person's belongings, destroying the person's possessions whenever possible, and removing footprints from around the site of the grave. Additionally, if a Navajo were to die inside his/her dwelling place, their ghost is thought to be released into the room, where it can remain for a long time. If this happens, then the hogan would have to be permanently vacated in order to avoid potentially infecting any Navajo who entered it. In such cases, the dead person would either be left in the hogan or brought out of the structure through a hole made in the northern wall. After the deceased has been removed from the hogan, the house is never to be inhabited again in hopes that the ghost will eventually leave through the same hole that was made in the north-facing wall.

In the Navajo belief system, ghosts are generally not perceived as malevolent, but as a natural phenomenon that is part of the transformation entailed in the dying process. Right before death ghosts are often described as dark shadows, and after death they may reappear on earth in the form of an animal, whirlwind, or certain unusual sounds and movements. Ghosts tend to become malignant forces when the corpse is not handled properly in the prescribed manner set by traditional customs.


In the context in which Tony Hillerman tends to use the word "harmony," it refers to the Navajo concept of hózhǫ́, the state in which all living things are ordered, in balance, and walking in beauty. The opposite of hózhǫ́ is hóchxǫ́ǫ́, which refers to disorder and chaos in one’s life. In Hillerman's work, chaos and imbalance manifest as as physical or mental illness, infections of the body and souls contracted from contact with mainstream U.S. culture.


The steep, vertical edge of a mountain, hill, or mesa. Cliffs expose the rock types and different earth sediments of the mountain, and can be created either by erosional forces or by structural forces. Erosional cliffs are created when the rock is weathered down starting at their base. Erosional cliffs are prevalent in areas with mountainous sandstone or sedimentary rocks that are prone to weathering. Structural cliffs are created with fault displacement or when a significant landslide occurs. In most cases, there is a sudden large drop past the edge of the cliff, creating a dramatic change in elevation between the top of the geological formation and the bottom of the cliff.


Witches are people, men or women, who practice witchcraft. In many cultures witches are typically believed to be female. In Navajo societies, witches are most often believed to be male, although older people and women without children are also believed to be witches. These witches cause harm or illness to the people they curse or who encounter them. This sickness can be cured by completing curing ceremonies.

In the Southwest, there are strong concepts of witchcraft for both the Pueblo groups and the Navajo. For the Navajo, witches may also refer to Navajo wolf, wolf, or skinwalker. In some Native American legends, a skinwalker is a person with the supernatural ability to turn into any animal he or she desires. In addition to transforming into animals, the skinwalker has other powers. He or she can read others' minds, control minds, bring forth disease, destroy homes, and even cause death. While Europeans warned of a wolf in sheep's clothing, certain tribal beliefs cautioned against a human in wolf's clothing. Literally, the Navajo wolf, or witch, can also be referred to as a skinwalker.


A large piece of rock that has been detached from a larger rock surface by weathering, whether physical or chemical.


A seep, also known as a gravity spring, is an area where water slowly oozes from the ground and collects. A seep is created when the water table intersects with a fissure in the ground surface, causing the water to be pushed up through a fissure and collect on the surface.


A word used by Hillerman to refer to the work of people known in some Native American traditions as witches. In the Navajo tradition, about which Hillerman wrote most often, Navajo witches are also known as Navajo wolves or skinwalkers. In general, it is believed that witches cause physical infections that stem from spiritual imbalances associated with death. Because witches are connected with death (to become a witch in the Navajo tradition, one must murder a family member), all dealings with witches are always already tainted with death and uncleanliness. If one becomes infected with illness because of contact with a witch, or because one is the target of a witch's hex, healing ceremonials need to take place to cure the sickness and help the invalid regain balance, also known as hózhǫ́ . Hillerman used the same term of witchcraft to refer to other evil goings on and unproper behavior for other tribes, like the Hopi.


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